When The Desert Finds You

There have been periods of my life that have been very dry spiritually.  It is not unusual for a pastor to experience spiritual dryness; however, it unusual for him to admit it.

About ten years ago, I experienced this dryness like no other time in my life.  In 2006, out of obedience we moved to Indiana.  I had no clue I walking into a mess and nobody bothered to tell me.  About four months into it, I was told about a disaster that  had been brewing.  This brewing continued for four additional months before the senior pastor resigned.  Several things went wrong and in one week, a 1/3 of the church left.  The elders had no plan.  I immediately wondered what I signed up for and how I could get out of it.  Instead I stuck around and decided I would work to safe the church.  The desert hit really hard.

God’s grace actually is what saved the church and it had little to do with me.  I did many things wrong in that period but I was available.  I wasn’t sure why God wanted to save that church.  I wasn’t sure why God brought us to Indiana to endure those years.  The future was very unclear.  Again, by the grace of God our family lived through it.  Those years were very hard.

I was tired through so many of those days, but one verse kept surfacing in my life.  James 1:12 says, “Blessed in the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”.

I have been told many times that a person is in a trial, coming out of a trial or heading into a trial.  Either way, I can’t remember a trial that I thought was a good time.  I have never thought “that was a good time, let’s do it again.” Rather, I didn’t know how I close I was to the finish line. I repeated God wins in the end, but I didn’t know when the end would arrive.  I wanted it to end as soon as possible.

I’m not alone.  Maybe you’re in the desert or maybe the last year has been really hard for you.  Maybe you are stuck spiritually.  Maybe you don’t know if you can continue.  Maybe you don’t want to continue.  I want to offer some hope from James 1:12.  The entire book of James is helpful beyond this verse.

First, it is in our best interest to remain steadfast.  To remain steadfast is “to continue in an activity or state despite resistance and opposition”.  The phrase can also suggest endurance.  On the other side of a trial, there is happiness, joy and pleasurable circumstances.  How can one endure through the desert or hard year?

  1. Read your Bible.  If you don’t think there is time, get an audio version and listen in the car.
  2. Pray.  It doesn’t take long to declare that God is bigger than the trial.  You should also tell God how you feel.  He already knows.  Remember, Jesus cared for a person who said, “Lord, I believe, but help my disbelief.”  The important thing is that you’re real with God.
  3. Listen to Christian music.  We are emotional people and our perspective can be changed through music.  Try it for 14 days.
  4. Search for your heart for any unconfessed sin.
  5. Attend a church that preaches the authority of God’s Word and doesn’t compromise.
  6. Join a small group.  A healthy small group creates a loving and safe environment for you to be authentic.  When I was a youth pastor, I often told students they needed somebody they could spiritually vomit on.  A healthy small group provides people who will walk through the trial with you.  A healthy small group pours encouragement into your life.  A healthy small group reminds you that you’re not alone.

Second, it is in our best interest to trust God even though we may not see his involvement.  It is possible your trial has brought a visible spiritual battle into your life.  It may seem like the enemy’s voice is louder than God’s voice.  It may even seem like God has abandoned you.  It may seem like your world is caving in.  The end of James 1:12 reminds us God has promised to reward us after we have passed the test.  God always keeps his promises.  God goes through the trial with us.  God often carries us through the trial when we’re too weary to walk.  According to Hebrews 13, God will never leave us.  God always has our back and He is actively working on our behalf.

Third, it is in our best interest to remember you haven’t always been stuck in the desert.  We often need reminders of God’s sovereignty and provision.  If you’re in the desert or just feeling stuck, I encourage you to spend some time in Psalm 90-106.  They are so rich in reminding us of God’s role in our lives.

Finally, if you think God might keep you in the desert for forty years like Israel.  Remember, God has something really special for Israel on the other side of that wandering.  Israel needed to trust God to land them on that “special provision”.

I’m so sorry that life has brought you into a desert.  Even Jesus spent time in the desert and had something special on the other side.  I encourage you today to place your desert experience into the hands of Jesus Christ.  If his hands could take nails pounded into them, then his hands can handle this one also.

You are loved!